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Head of countryside Quango sacked

[Thursday 16 March 2006]

As concern and anger mounts among farmers over the late payment of subsidies the Government has stepped in to the row and sacked the boss of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

Under Chief Executive Johnston McNeill, the seemingly unaccountable Quango has been plagued with problems and has faced furious criticism from farmers leaders who say their members are fed up and frustrated with the ever-lengthening wait for their cheques to arrive.

RPA boss sacked
RPA boss sacked

The Single Payment Scheme is a new subsidy paid to farmers under the European Common Agricultural Policy, and a Government announcement earlier this year promised that farmers would be notified of their entitlement by the 14th of February; that date was missed and the latest assessment from the RPA suggests that many payments will not be received by the end of March as promised.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Rural affairs Secretary Margaret Becket, said: "Ministers have throughout been advised that, following the validation of claims, the RPA expected to make the bulk of payments by the end of the month.

"Late on Tuesday afternoon the Chief Executive informed me that their latest reassessment of the position was that this would no longer be possible. This is an unacceptable situation".

This latest fiasco in the Agency's short but troubled history spelled the end for Johnston McNeill; Mrs Becket told MP's: "I have concluded that urgent action is needed to strengthen the leadership of the agency.

"With my approval, the Permanent Secretary of my Department, Helen Ghosh, has today appointed Mark Addison as Acting Chief Executive in place of Johnston McNeill.

"Mark Addison has outstanding experience and abilities which I believe fit him for this task, and I have asked him to report to me by Tuesday on the immediate steps needed to get us back on track."

The sacking was welcomed by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), an organisation that has directed much criticism towards the beleaguered RPA and its former boss. Following the announcement Douglas Chalmers, Director of CLA North said:

"This move will be welcomed by farmers across the country and at last demonstrates that our criticisms of the farm payment fiasco have finally been accepted.

"However, this is only the first step in resolving the mess that is not simply a saga of bureaucratic delays and misinformation, but is a real calamity on many farms which have had little or no income for many months.

"With winter bills to pay, and winter itself seemingly reluctant to turn into spring, extended terms will have been negotiated with banks and suppliers, but at a cost. As each promised deadline was stretched, even these terms have been missed, leading to additional credit charges, and still no money."

The CLA now intends to work with Mark Addison, the RPA's new acting CEO to ensure that farmers in England get their payments as soon as possible.

Mr Chalmers continued: "The CEO's departure is one step, but the CLA will not rest until its Members have the payments to which they are entitled.

"We now need to see a step change in the philosophy of the RPA. It has to stop being a secretive and defensive organisation which reluctantly releases information and payments. It must now become a proper partner in helping British agriculture to adapt to the challenges of the future."

You can read the full text of Margaret Beckets' statement to the House of Commons at www.defra.gov.uk

What do you think?

Is the sacking of Johnston McNeill the answer?

Are there more fundamental problems with the RPA?

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